by Soror Nihil Obstat
Heaven & Earth
And I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed; it shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise his heel.
It is not untrue to say a conflict always has two sides to each story.
But by the Will of a third party, a conflict can also be contained, stripped, perfected in union, and thus set ablaze with something newly risen, fresh from the tension.
A long time ago, humankind decided that it was the third party between Heaven and Earth; Above and Below; the Light and the Darkness.
Then, it decided that this fire was uncontrollable in nature and therefore trapped it within the earth.
This earth became Woman; Her liberator the Serpent.
The Book of Genesis, especially its third chapter, is full of alchemical and Kabbalistic symbolism. Without getting too technical, the main division and source of duality can be apprehended by looking at the simplest model of reality, which is a circle divided into top and bottom. The symbol of the TAO, comprised of sides Yin and Yang, is a good example of this but depicts them in motion.
This top, or “Above,” is known to people under various different names, like: “Heaven,” God (of the Abrahamic religions), Brahman (of philosophical Hinduism), Nirvana (of Buddhism), and the Dao or Tao.
So too, is the bottom, or “Below,” known as: “Earth,” Maya (of philosophical Hinduism), Samsara (of Buddhism), Under or Lower Heaven (Daoism, Confucianism), Choice of Death (of Judaism), The World (Christianity), and the Realm of War (Islam).
Religion, organized or otherwise, contains and resolves tensions common to human existence because it fundamentally operates on the basis of a primal duality, which creates a dual approach to problems of the human condition: one “Heaven-based” and the other “Earth-based.”
This is because the goal of religion is always connected to Unconditional Reality and not merely Conditioned Reality. Specifically, “the main idea behind any religion (whether it views unconditioned and conditioned reality as conterminous and concurrent or as actual separate spheres) is that it is full of doors and windows and that much commerce passes between the two” (Many Peoples, Many Faiths, 5).
This, in turn, creates a dual approach to problems of the human condition as well as a separate category of religious or spiritual tensions. Therefore, such an approach seeks both to contain and try to resolve (both) Heavenly and Earthly issues.
In attempting to contain a tension with religion, an individual will likely suffer greatly but transcend his self and his understandings as he knows how. Both Eastern and Western alchemy considers this the “Heaven-based” approach to religion which, if successful, produces a tertium non datur, (Carl G. Jung’s “reconciling ‘third,’ not logically foreseeable, characteristic of a resolution in a conflict situation when the tension between opposites has been held in consciousness”).
In stark contrast, if an individual attempts to resolve the tension by religion, he or she will likely be relieved but miss out on the opportunity of spiritual transcendence. This, too, is necessary in order to produce lasting and compassionate effects upon the world we live in—the world we are conditioned, in fact, to live in.
In conclusion, both of these scenarios create a trinity, one reaching towards Unconditioned reality, and the other, towards Conditioned Reality. To resolve one is to contain the other, while to contain one is to resolve the other.
In all cases of “the Trinity,” the archetypal Two is always comprised of 1. itself, and 2. itself and not-itself. In other words, “man” has the power to create, but “woman” has the power to both create and destroy, as in the Hindu ideas of Shiva and Shakti. The former, which is consciousness, can be articulated while the latter, which is the unconscious mind, cannot. As a result, “man” (and mind, intellect, reason) represents the Law of Non-contradiction, while “woman” (and body, emotion, feeling) has come to represent the Law of Excluded middle (which allows the tertium non datur to occur). Respectively, one is reductive (+1 -1 = 0) while the other is additive (+1-1 = 2). This is why the mind sees no choice but to choose between Jesus and Buddha while the heart is able to follow both.
In Qabalah, that which can be articulated in language corresponds to the faculty of Hod in the Ruach, while that which cannot corresponds to the faculty of Netzach in the Ruach.
The Old Aeon
The Old Aeon, marked by approximately two thousand years, saw a rise and fall of matriarchal values. It is also called the Age of Pisces, and the presumption now is that we are currently in the New Aeon, that of Aquarius. The single most defining characteristic about the Age of Aquarius, whether or not one personally adheres to such a belief, is that that belief is irrelevant to anyone but him or herself.
Even before the Age of Pisces, humankind has had to adapt drastically to climate and environmental change after the last ice age (circa 11,000 BC). Much of the earth became subject to long dry seasons and annual plants began to flourish under these conditions. It is theorized that the transition between hunger-gatherer to agricultural societies took place over a longer period of time following the increase of sedentism (the practice of living in one place for a long time) than previously expected. All of these factors contributed significantly to what we understand as gender roles today, but also are key to unlocking the foundation of the Greater and Lesser Mysteries of many initiatory schools throughout history.
The primary way in which the worldview of hunter-gatherer religions is reflected in the relationships between men and women is through the men’s historical roles as hunters and the women’s as gatherers. While men’s roles have been dominant for longer periods of time prior to the development of agriculture, it is interesting to note that “[t]he important role of women as gatherers is reflected in the high status accorded them in hunter-gather societies where there appears to be an egalitarian bent exhibited by a great degree of complementarity in the roles of men and women” (ibid., 41).
The Paleolithic mind, extant from before the discovery of agriculture, seeks to avoid disturbing the natural flow of things—which is considered sacred in its own right. It is also clear that appreciating the mysteries of the natural world gave the Neolithic agriculturalists a deep sense of meaning and purpose to their existence.
Because of this, the “rape” of the fields by farming, plowing, and other “unnatural means” to produce food from the earth resulted in the first “fall” from innocence. The imagery and sentiment of this necessary adaptation for survival mirrors that of the prepubescent mind when struggling to transcend the duality of desire (the sexual instinct/libido/id, will-to-live) versus guilt (a type of ‘will-to-die’, a function of the superego). It is this Paleolithic mind, also known as Carl G. Jung’s “archaic identity,” or in Qabalah, the nephesh, which forms the foundation of higher rational and as well as higher emotional faculties.
As a result, mankind’s first initiation into the Mysteries always seems to involve women, serpents, gardens, fields and crops.
As the practice of hunting decreased, it is possible that this triggered mankind (namely men throughout history) to turn to early forms of writing and record-keeping. This would include the use of complex oral traditions, all for the express purpose of giving themselves and the generations after them a chance (via scriptural, spiritual, or religious, i.e. “biblical” narrative) to be forgiven for man’s mortality and dependence upon the earth for nourishment.
Women, who were considered to embody the earth (the body, matter, nature), for the most part, turned to folk magic and myth, which served further to unite their ways of living with the ways of nature and the earth without fear of repercussion, guilt, or need for sacrifice.
Even more pragmatic and forward-thinking were the societies who figured out how to incorporate their stories into ceremonial ritual, still practiced in certain forms today. Male initiatory rites within the Aborigines of Australia, which consist of circumcision and sacred dancing, for example, reflect the interplay of spiritual forces through the natural processes of the body—that is, the female body—which goes through menstruation for the first time in a young woman of the same age.
Unlike back then, when women were not allowed to read or write let alone take part in the mysteries, the rise of contemporary women occultists and magicians today suggests both blessing and curse—we have forgotten who (or “what”) we are, and thus can become anything.
For the societies that did not have the same problem finding food, it made sense to continue hunting and gathering without needing to “fall from grace.” Those that did evolved in ways we would have considered “dark” and “morbid.” Their preoccupation with death (particularly ritual death) was a result of the idea that one must exchange death for life and vice versa, just as in the reaping and sowing cycles of the seasons. On this it is written, “it is clear that human sacrifice meant a transfer of power from the victim to the sacrificer or his or her works, a concept prefigured in the murders that mark the beginning of agriculture in myth” (ibid., 45-46).
All of that is changing, and it is changing rapidly. Not only are environmental and climate-impacting factors more important than ever but women (and what they’ve traditionally represented) are quickly reinventing the world we all live in. It has been posited (by Jung and Marie-Louise von Franz) that the male gender, and by extension, Unconditioned reality, or “Heaven,” represents perfection of the parts while the female gender and/or Conditioned reality, or “Earth,” represents the perfection of the whole.
Contemporary Western society has now reached a point were the former approach (perfection of the parts) is doing serious and irreversible damage to the whole.
One way of looking at the Age of Pisces is as the age of monotheism. The symbol of the fish, according to classical interpretation, is derived from the ichthyocentaurs (a race of centaurine sea gods with the upper body of a human, the lower front of a horse, the tail of a fish, and lobster-claw horns on their heads), who aided Aphrodite when she was born from the sea. Imagery of the fish or fishes and many Christian symbols became intertwined and their original meanings transmuted throughout time. While most of the age was centered around the relationship between “Above” and “Below,” it became clear with the arrival of Descartes’ mind-body problem that humankind would never return to its “original,” or “pre-fall” form.
The Hermetic Qabalah
Derived from Jewish mysticism and refurbished for use in Western esotericism, the Hermetic Qabalah is a perfect allegorical filing cabinet for all things, including numerous pairs of tensions between “Above” and “Below;” “Without” and “Within,” or simply “male” or “female.”
In the form of the Tree of Life (Etz Chaim), the Qabalah can be understood as that remains in Eden after the banishment of Adam and Eve, or the first “fall.” The descent from the tension of the Two in this case created the opportunity to return not to a state of ignorance (as in not having eaten from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil) but to a state of childlike innocence in all matters of life and death.
The Tree of Life is comprised of ten spheres or emanations (sephiroth in plural, and sephira in singular) that Jewish mystics use to represent the highest and most abstract ideas of deity. These are: Kether, Chokmah, Binah, Chesed, Geburah, Tiphareth, Netzach, Hod, Yesod, and Malkuth.
Kether is the source of all (and what continues) the creation of the rest of the spheres. It is inconceivable and beyond duality. The second sphere, Chokmah, then represents the idea of idea and the chaos of all potentiality. Binah, Understanding, refers to the form in which ideas manifest. Together, these three give birth to the rest of the spheres beginning with Chesed.
In Chesed lies the creation of matter and in Geburah the laws which bind and rectify the manifest world. Tiphareth represents the balance of all the spheres above and below, right and left, inside and out. Netzach symbolizes love, passion, and aspiration; Hod compliments Netzach by symbolizing reason, intellect, and receptivity. Yesod, The Foundation, refers to the rhythmic cycles of all of the above, and Malkuth, The Kingdom, is the Tree of Life in its entirety.
Central to understanding the relationship between mind and body or man and woman is the fact that Tiphareth is usually personified to be the “Son” of the Supernal Triad composed of Kether, Chokmah, and Binah, while Malkuth is the Son’s Bride. Together they form one half of the formula Tetragrammaton (the four-fold name of God), while their union completes the other half.
It is important to note that the first and last spheres of the Tree of Life are essentially the same—they merely differ in degrees of manifestation. In the case of Malkuth and Tiphareth also, they are both equally important but differ in their roles.
Thelema is called a religion by some and philosophy by others but one cannot deny the emphasis it puts on the individual as a wisdom tradition. Founded in 1904 by English occultist Aleister Crowley, Thelema was and still is one of the most radical, forward-thinking and workable system of spiritual and scientific attainment. It seeks to unite the doctrines, practices and symbolism from both East and West and encourages participation from women in the mysteries.
Liber AL vel Legis, the central sacred text of Thelema, states, “Every man and every woman is a star” in the third point of the first chapter. According to some, this third point references the third sephira, Binah, on the Tree of Life. [Each verse of Liber AL potentially corresponds to a sphere in one of the twenty-two paths of the Tree of Life. Note that Liber AL, or Liber 220 = 22 paths x 10 spheres. – N.O.]
Although Binah translates directly in Hebrew as “understanding,” this sphere is also closely related to the concept of the Holy Spirit, intuition, and the archetypal Mother. According to Crowley’s Liber 777, a work consisting of roughly 191 tables of correspondences, Binah also embodies aspects of the goddesses Isis, Cybele, Demeter, Rhea, Juno, Hecate and The Virgin Mary.
It is this last association, that of The Virgin Mary with the Mother, which provides an important key into the sacred symbolism of the divine feminine.
The Divine Feminine
It comes as no surprise that many world religions contain concepts of trinity. Many philosophers throughout history, too, pursued a trichotomy, or three-way classificatory division. Hegel, in particular, identified a pattern of trichotomies and described the process as thesis, antithesis, and synthesis. In other words, one pair of opposing forces always produces a third, which is either neutral in its transcendence of tension or neutral in its containment of tension.
In each case, the “Three” is associated with the feminine due to its ability to combine the “Two,” as in the womb.
Another traditionally feminine sphere is the tenth sephira, Malkuth, which always corresponds to the world of the physical. While Binah, the Mother, can be conceived of as matter or form, it is her Daughter, Malkah (Malkuth), whom the Tree in its entirety relies upon for experience.
Just because Malkah, Kallah, or Malkuth are descriptive terms for the physical body and automatic processes does not mean “she” is any less important than her intangible counterpart, consciousness. It is imperative to consider, especially for the Age of Aquarius, mind and body as being “made of the same stuff” (again). Taking care of one implies the duty of taking care of the other.
As the manifest form of spirit, or consciousness, Malkuth (the body, i.e. “woman”) is ideally considered to be “innocent,” “virginal,” and “pure.” The fact of the matter is that none of these words are meant to describe human beings. The only thing women “ideally” need to be is themselves. Instead, words like “innocent” and “virginal” are meant to express reverence towards the natural world, our bodies, and the automatic functions of the body we are provided with at birth.
The main reason why the regeneration of the body is always considered pure is largely because healing occurs unadulterated by thought. In Eastern and many holistic schools of medicine, the body, while unable to be controlled completely with the mind, does respond directly to genuine emotion. To provide an example: while one can will one’s limbs to serve a purpose revealed from the mind, unless that mind is trained, the individual can just as likely change his mind and suddenly decide against its purpose. This would result in the inhibition of one’s own actions on the plane of manifestation, and therefore, a failure to execute the original purpose.
In contrast, the body can heal an injury without ever turning against itself. It holds no grudges and speaks no evil.
Despite the body’s “pure” intentions, however, mankind’s collective consciousness has managed to demonize natural processes and allow unspeakable crimes against itself across time. For instance, contemporary Western society has become extremely proficient at avoiding the topic of death and dying. When we do refer to these topics, we use euphemisms and speak of illness as a kind of evil. On the other hand, violent but unrealistic death is constantly shown to us in the media. A similar and possibly more complex comparison may be made regarding the topic of sex.
According to the teachings of Samael Aun Weor, a Gnostic teacher and initiate of the Fraternitas Rosicruciana Antiqua (F.R.A), the three fundamental nervous systems (the cerebrospinal, grand sympathetic, and the parasympathetic) function as the Three Centers corresponding to the Trinity. The intellect or cerebrospinal nervous system relates to Kether (a positive force); emotion or the grand sympathetic nervous system relates to Chokmah (a negative force); and finally, the motor-instinctual-sexual center or parasympathetic nervous system relates to Binah (reconciling and neutral). In Qabalah, it is the ninth sephira, Yesod, that manifests the creative energy of Binah, the Holy Spirit.
Yesod, “foundation,” serves as a transmitter between “Above” and “Below,” and thus is the mediator between “man” and “woman.” Like the svadhisthana chakra of Indian mysticism, Yesod is associated with the sexual and generative power. The divine name associated with this sphere translates to “field of sexual energy.” Returning to the book of Genesis, it is written that the serpent is the most subtle “animal” in Yesod, the “field,” which refers to the life-force contained within the center.
This principle of pure regeneration is also that which begets desire; the masculine energies within us seek to unite with it, while the feminine energies in all of us seek to exalt it. In this sense, masculine energy is represented by the serpent while the feminine energy, as described above, is represented by Malkah, first known as Eve, who admits man into the mysteries.
To elaborate, the grand sympathetic nervous system (or “emotional brain” corresponding to the Son or Chokmah aspect of the Trinity), begins its development at roughly fourteen years of age. This is a profound psychological change that contemporary Western society takes not only for granted but also in way that confuses the individual.
The transformation itself is initiated by the desire-body or faculty of emotion commonly attributed to the sphere of Netzach. When the serpent or sexual potency is present and ready to be released, this “animal” manifests as instinctual sexual desire with the help of the liver. It is our instinctual sexual centers within Yesod that manifest this life force of nature. As a result, that part of us which is feminine is what first signals the very important transition into adolescence.
Alchemy and the Holy Grail
The physical and chemical changes that happen to the body during puberty (speaking from a purely physical perspective) represent the beginning of the alchemical albedo stage, or “white work” of the Magnum Opus, or Great Work. The white work involves the separation of the gross from the fine, or subtle. Because the most “subtle animal” is the desire-force related with sexual potency and breath, to perform the white work means mastering the emotions approximately at the same time as these emotions reveal themselves to us as untamed and often violent impulses.
In the midst of Christ’s crucifixion according to the Gospel of John, it is said that the Romans planned to break Jesus’ legs in order to hasten death. Just before they did so, they realized he was already dead. In order to make sure he was dead, a Roman soldier named Longinus “pierced his side with a lance, and immediately there came out blood and water” (19:34).
Richard Wagner incorporated this story in his opera Parsifal, which tells of a young Arthurian knight who recovers the Lance and finds the blood of Christ (along with the Holy Grail). He identified the Holy Lance with two items from Wolfram von Eschenbach’s poem Parzifal, originally written in the 13th century. The first item is a bleeding spear in the castle where the Grail is found, and the second is the spear that originally wounded the Fisher King.
The Fisher King, otherwise known as the Wounded or Maimed King, is an important and fascinating character for many reasons. Not only is he likely derived from Bran the Blessed from Celtic mythology he is said to be the last in a long line charged with protecting the Holy Grail. His name refers to the curious condition he lives in—for all he is able to do is fish near his castle and wait for someone to heal his “thigh” wound. In some versions this is accomplished by asking the right question. In others the Fisher King can only be healed by the Holy Lance itself. In later versions of this story, many knights attempt to heal the Fisher King and are unsuccessful while Parsifal, the “innocent,” succeeds.
The fish, being the emblem of the previous astrological age and symbol of Christ, is symbolically analogous to the phallus/lance, serpent, or sexual desire. Because it lives in and “breathes” water, one may interpret the fish as each individual life swimming in the vast abyss of the collective unconscious represented by water at the start of the albedo stage, which corresponds to the threshold of pubescence.
Some fated individuals are invariably drawn to archetypal energies such as these, especially early on in their lives. For example, Carl G. Jung recounts in his alchemical autobiography, Memories, Dreams, Reflections: “When all the men had left, I quickly stole into the garden to the warehouse. But the door was locked. I went around the house; at the back there was an open drain running down the slope, and I saw blood and water trickling out. I found this extraordinarily interesting. At that time I was not yet four years old” (7-8).
While blood symbolizes the suffering of man (the mind, intellect), water expresses the purifying and self-regenerating nature of woman (the body, emotion), who can restore something to its original glory without it itself being affected. On a strictly physical basis, the sight of blood marks the beginning of the rubedo stage of alchemy.
Paralleling this myth of the Holy Lance and the notion that it both wounds and heals, only the serpent (sexual desire) who tempted Eve (the body) can redeem Eve by raising Her above all else. In other words, the two serpents of Gnosticism belong to one Lion; the brazen and the tempting serpent merely signify different stages of the individual’s development.
It makes sense to “her” that first, the phallus is a wyrm but later becomes God himself.
It makes sense to “him” that first, she is a temptress and later becomes his entire Universe.
Without that desire, there could be no appeal to union let alone free will. Sex is first and foremost an act of self-love. It is literally, spiritually, and metaphorically mankind’s work to raise women to their proper place.
This is the real reason why fundamentalists of every religion aim to suppress women. To them, women represent their uncontrollable desire. If only they followed this desire through to its end instead of abusing it, they would realize that this desire is actually for God.
The New Aeon
There are, undoubtedly, various models that need to be rectified for the future and many of them involve how we treat women. Numerous androcentric spiritual accounts, despite their holy intentions, have created an imbalance in the way we merely perceive the female form. While the highest ideals of beauty, love and desire are impersonal, the path to that ideal is very personal. Like the Lady Venus behind her Veil, each individual reserves the right to deny anyone the opportunity to see (i.e. worship) them. With consent, one can seek to admire the body of another, but the power from that body belongs to the owner alone. Therefore, the highest act of love is total dissolution in the power and beauty of the Other.
When an individual begins the Path of Return, forces within them polarize. Often one magnetic center serves to draw in the forces required for a more complete assimilation of the opposite pole. As elegant as that sounds, the reality is likely an explosive and tension-filled exchange between mind and body (or man and woman). Here it will be useful to use the Jungian concept of the anima and animus with the additional and original proposition that each individual contains both expressions. The view that men only have an anima and women only have an animus is, quite frankly, outdated. It is of the author’s personal opinion that Jung embodied his animus so well he could not bear his own witness. Unlike others, he needed only to “marry” his anima.
Using the terminology of Thelema, the anima is essentially “the office of the Scarlet Woman” while the animus is “the Prince-Priest/Beast,” or prophet.
When it comes to sexual magic, since we all project parts of ourselves as the anima/animus, it matters not whether we are monogamous or polygamous (as long as all parties consent). One can find aspects of oneself in either the one person or several, not unlike Bhaktimarga, the path of loving devotion to a personified god. It is possible that monogamy (especially heterosexual monogamy) is celebrated above other forms of marriage because the secret to this tradition (as in the Great Work and the Alchemical marriage) has been lost among those who hold this opinion. In all cases, an unfaithful partner is always at fault because they are the ones lacking the vision to see the bigger picture, mainly that they are the projector and thus, are literally “who” they are searching for.
As a woman and in the context of the existing zeitgeist, I do not believe it is a coincidence that from the Jungian psychological model, it may be theorized that:
Men (representing consciousness) are conditioned to pursue women at all costs, while
Women (representing the unconscious mind) have been conditioned by society to learn how to see themselves from the eyes of another (male) to avoid danger.
On a more uplifting note, Sapphic displays of affection occur much more frequently in society today, which may be nature’s ingenious opportunity for women to heal and reteach one another what love truly is without threat of danger. With these tides turning, physical sex is no longer a factor in gender representation and thus, for instance, a biological man can exhibit a stronger Malkah principle than a biological woman. The message for this New Age is that everyone—not just women—should liberate their Divine Feminine.
Because we each make our own meaning, that meaning can always find its way back to us. That is the ultimate lesson of the Grail Mysteries and the tale of the Fisher King. A crisis of faith is a collapse of meaning following an unbearable contradiction—one which requires us to let go and be purified (by water). The lesson of the Divine Feminine is one whereby losing the path you thought you were on, you are able to find the infinite path.
Ellwood, Robert S. and Barbara A. McGraw. Many Peoples, Many Faiths: Women and Men in the World Religions, Seventh Edition. Pearson Education, Inc., Prentice Hall, 2002.
Von Franz, Marie-Louise. C. G. Jung: His Myth in Our Time. C. G. Jung Foundation for Analytical Psychology, Inc., 1975.
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